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Doolittle v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

December 29, 2014

KEVIN DOOLITTLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

GREG KAYS, Chief District Judge.

This action seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's (the "Commissioner") decision denying Plaintiff Kevin Doolittle's applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including affective disorder, but he retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work as a surveillance systems monitor, touch-up screener for printed circuit board assembly, and final assembler of optical goods.

Because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision, the Commissioner's denial of benefits is AFFIRMED.

Factual and Procedural Background

A summary of the entire record is presented in the parties' briefs and is repeated here only to the extent necessary.

Plaintiff filed his DIB application on August 14, 2012, and his SSI application on August 27, 2012. Both applications alleged a disability onset date of February 1, 2008. The Commissioner denied his applications, and the Plaintiff subsequently requested an administrative hearing. After conducting a hearing, the ALJ denied relief on September 12, 2013. Plaintiff appealed, but the Appeals Council denied review, leaving the ALJ's opinion as the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff has exhausted all of his administrative remedies and judicial review is now appropriate under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

Standard of Review

A federal court's review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny disability benefits is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Buckner v. Astrue, 646 F.3d 549, 556 (8th Cir. 2011). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance, but enough evidence that a reasonable mind would find it sufficient to support the Commissioner's decision. Id. In making this assessment, the court considers evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. McKinney v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 860, 863 (8th Cir. 2000). The court must "defer heavily" to the Commissioner's findings and conclusions. Hurd v. Astrue, 621 F.3d 734, 738 (8th Cir. 2010). The court may reverse the Commissioner's decision only if it falls outside of the available zone of choice, and a decision is not outside this zone simply because the court might have decided the case differently were it the initial finder of fact. Buckner, 646 F.3d at 556.

Analysis

In determining whether a claimant is disabled, that is, unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable impairment that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d), the Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation process.[1]

Plaintiff raises four arguments challenging the ALJ's treatment of his mental limitations at Steps Four and Five. As for Step Four, Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred by: (1) disregarding Plaintiff's low Global Assessment of Functioning[2] ("GAF") scores; (2) failing to develop the record with regard to Plaintiff's mental limitations; and (3) failing to include a limitation noted in the opinion from state agency reviewing psychologist Mark Altomari, Ph.D. ("Dr. Altomari"). With respect to Step Five, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by relying upon Dr. Altomari's opinion to determine that Plaintiff could perform other jobs.

I. Substantial evidence supports the ALJ's Step Four determination.

A claimant's RFC is the most he can still do despite his limitations. Leckenby v. Astrue, 487 F.3d 626, 631 n.5 (8th Cir. 2007). Here, the ALJ assessed numerous limitations in formulating Plaintiff's RFC. The RFC, in relevant part, precluded Plaintiff to work involving "simple and routine tasks with no work around the general public." R. at 17. ...


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